The Morning After (a recipe)
March 10, 2014 —
The holidays require stamina. You pour your heart and soul into cooking an elaborate feast for family and friends, you linger at the table for hours toasting auld lang syne and then you tumble into bed exhausted. The next day? You get up and do it again, especially if you have houseguests! Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…
Inevitably, all this cooking leads to leftovers, and rather than just cluttering up your kitchen, they can actually be repurposed into some quick and easy crowd-pleasers. People will perk right up at the sight of a crisp and spicy turkey tostada, long after they’ve grown tired of turkey sandwiches. And that leftover roast beef make a delicious hash! Of course there’s nothing like a casserole to absorb all manner of bits and bobs, but a strata is a rather elegant version. Its sophisticated Italian name—strata, meaning “layers,” which is a clue to this dish’s composition—belies a humble base of day-old bread, eggs and cheese. Not unlike quiche or frittata, the remaining ingredients are quite flexible and depend mostly on what’s in your fridge.
Strata has been around for more than a century, with the earliest known recipe from 1902 featuring bread and cheese layered with béchamel sauce. But a modern version with eggs became wildly popular after the 1984 publication of the Silver Palate Cookbook and remains something of a classic to this day. That recipe calls for pesto and prosciutto, but you could incorporate bits of leftover ham or chicken; any cooked vegetables, from potatoes to greens to asparagus; fresh herbs; and any combination of cheeses, preferably one that melts well and another with a bit of sharp flavor to it. The only thing you really need to remember is that once you assemble the strata, layering cubes of bread with vegetables and cheese in a large casserole dish, you pour over a mixture of eggs beaten with milk or cream and allow that to sit in the fridge overnight, or for several hours at least. The bread soaks all this up and, when you bake it the next day, the strata emerges puffed, golden-brown and custardy—the ultimate savory bread pudding.